Charlie Brooker seems to have become the de facto face of BBC 4, because he’s the only one on there who’s programs are worth a damn. For those of you who don’t know, Mr Brooker is a acerbic, ranting former games journalist who now writes for the Guardian and makes programs ridiculing television, news and videogames for the BBC. So you can why I like him. Oh, and (of course) I need to point out he looks a bit like a white Laurence Fishburne.
Well, Charlie’s got a new show on, and it’s the second series of Newswipe. For those of you who don’t follow the Brookster, he’s done a lot of writing for stuff, including Brass Eye and Nathan Barley, and then he did five series of his own show, Screenwipe, all of which are available on Youtube thanks to this guy , as is the first series of Newswipe. Essentially, these are shows in which Charlie takes the piss out of a current program, trend, viewpoint, etc. They’re all jolly amusing.
But we’re examining Newswipe Series 2. Let’s kick of with the bad, shall we? Right then, Newswipe producers, let’s get one thing straight. I’m sure Tim Key is a very nice guy, but he has absolutely zero aptitude for comedy. His poetry is terrible. I appreciate that’s the point, but just because he’s written some deliberately awful poetry is no reason to give him a segment on an otherwise rather good television program! Seriously, this is the second series! I could at least understand keeping him on for the first series, perhaps a contractual obligation, but the fact that they’ve brought him back again makes it look like they think he’s entertaining. The worst of it is, due to the way the iPlayer works, skipping through him to get to Charlie talking again is a bit of a pig.
The other… issue I have, because it’s not a problem per se, is one which has existed since Screenwipe, and that’s the line the the show walks between being funny and being informative. It’s a line it walks very well, but sometimes I think the show should focus a bit more. There are clearly the ‘informative’ guests – i.e. journalists they get on to talk about the seedier side of news – people like Nick Davies from Flat Earth News, and then there are the ‘comedy’ guests – the aforementioned Tim ‘Less funny than 9/11′ Key, and newcomer, American Doug Stanhope, who has a ‘comic drunk’ persona, and wasn’t very funny in the first episode, but has since picked up. I’m not sure what my issue with it is, it could be that it isn’t very tonally stable. It lurches from comedy to informative and back again, and seems to lack cohesion, but I suppose the mix is necessary to interest the various sections of the audience.
Despite all the hateful words I’ve just spat in the direction of … well, Tim Key, mostly, but really, the show is great. Brooker is hilarious, as always, bringing the acerb, (if indeed acerb is the word) and the wit, along with plenty of broader jokes and profanity. Someone described him as an ‘X-rated Harry Hill’, which I think is a rather good comparison. He never seems to miss a beat, from the Day Today-inflected beginnings, to the surreal credits sequences.
Some have compared this program to the Daily Show, but I’m not really sure why. Newswipe is funny, for one (ZING!). Seriously though, the only reason I ever watched the Daily Show (which is a terrible title for a show only broadcast four days a week) was because they employ John Oliver of Bugle fame (which I will get onto later). Stewart (who comes across as a likeable guy, albeit not as hi-larious as everyone makes him out to be) doesn’t really do satire, just incredulously repeating things off the autocue and poking fun at Glenn Beck, which is easy. Just watch.
See! Just set it to a bed of amusing music, and let him just… talk! It’s like listening to the BNP, after about ten seconds, you realise they’re crazier than a sack of weasels! Brooker actually employs satire. What did Flanders and Swann say about satire? “The purpose of satire… is to strip off the veneer of comforting illusion and cozy half-truth… and our job, as I see it, is to put it back again” This is something that Brooker does admirably (not the last bit, obviously, and my lament at the absence of a modern-day Flanders and Swann will doubtless be a topic for another day).
My goodness, I’ve certainly been rambling to and fro, hither and yon with this one. So I suppose all that remains is for me to say this – go and watch Newswipe. It’s wasted on BBC4, it should be on BBC2, quite frankly. Skip through Tim Key’s bullshit, and you’ll have a very entertaining watch.